Some Manchester City fans may choose to take comfort from Sir Alex Ferguson’s surprising words of consolation after his Manchester United side beat City 2-1 on Saturday. “They
The inference is that, despite their derby-day defeat, Manchester City cannot be discounted from the title race. However now eight points behind the Red Devils, who also have a game in hand over City, one feels that the game is up regarding this season’s Premier League title aspirations. Only the most optimistic of Citizens could envisage such an astonishing comeback at this relatively late stage of the season.
City, for what it is worth, played with a little less caution that has inhibited them throughout other top of the table clashes this season. Criticised for their dour pragmatism and their contentedness to play with ten men behind the ball in search of a point in the return fixture, Manchester City started much the brighter in this Saturday lunchtime kickoff. Just four minutes had passed when City’s two outstanding players of the 2010/11 season combined to create the game’s opening, gilt-edged chance. Carlos Tevez’s intelligent reverse pass sent David Silva free inside the six-yard area. Although Edwin van der Sar’s presence was ominous in the United goal, Silva really ought to have hit the target. Instead his shot rolled agonisingly across the face of goal and wide. Despite being so early in the match, these are the pivotal moments on which matches change. It was a miss which City would come to rue.
From a defensive point of view, Nani’s opener was severely disappointing. In many ways, it was a throwback to the Eighties. A long goalkeeper’s punt flicked on by Rooney – should Lescott have been more dominant in that situation? – found Ryan Giggs. His pass was swift and direct, controlled beautifully by Nani. A couple of touches later and the Portuguese winger stroked the ball left-footed into the bottom corner, Pablo Zabaleta clearly not anticipating a first-touch so assured. It was a rudimentary goal, the type of move a serious title contender should aspire not to concede.
Even so, City were still the more progressive in possession, just lacking the moment of individual genius to break down Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic’s seemingly impenetrable defence. Whilst the game’s moment of genius was still to come, City got the breakthrough they deserved as second-half substitutes Shaun Wright-Phillips and Edin Dzeko combined to set up David Silva, deflecting the Bosnian’s wayward shot into the net.
Then came Wayne Rooney’s inspired interjection. If there is a way for a team’s title aspirations to be extinguished, a stunning overhead kick by a dreaded rival’s most despised player is perhaps the least palatable way to do so. Still, from a purely aesthetic point of view, Rooney’s scissor kick had to be admired. It was a contender for goal of the season, but that will be little solace to City fans who, deep down, know that the title looks beyond them for another year.